The college football industrial complex keeps dealing Dabo Swinney the disrespect card. He keeps playing it for his team. It's a bit pedantic but certainly understandable considering the situation. After all, just many consecutive games does a side have to win before they are given the benefit of the doubt? After all, is this not the defending national champion who trounced Alabama by four touchdowns on the big stage last year?
Swinney's whining has earned him the reputation as a whiner. That's what tends to happen, even if the complaints are warranted. All the blowouts and politicking in the world couldn't move the Tigers above the No. 3 seed. Their reward for walloping opponents is a matchup with Ohio State, another program with a reasonable case to be mounted for the top overall spot.
Clemson has been somewhat of an afterthought this year. Somehow. Trevor Lawrence has taken a backseat to Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, and even Jalen Hurts in the court of public opinion. An insane and deadly offense hasn't been given its due. A defense stocked with future NFLers is overlooked. It's been an odd phenomenon.
Of course the simplest explanation is the weak ACC and the Tigers' unmatched supremacy. That tends to yield little drama. This orange killing machine has become workmanlike. Routine.
And maybe that's the best compliment to give Clemson. They truly belong. They are no longer a program on the come-up. They've matched, if not surpassed the Crimson Tide. All of that feels comfortable when, even five years ago, this was all just a twinkle in Swinney's eyes.
They have nothing to prove, having proved it with regularity. But it's so hard to come to that realization in the face of Swinney painting everything as Them Against the World. A human reaction to all the squeaky wheel stuff is to say put up or shut up. To ask the Tigers to prove it on the field against the Buckeyes and then in the national title game.
That's was my reaction too. Until I paused and considered that even if Clemson bows out early, it won't be a referendum on the program, this team, Swinney, or anything else. This will still be the most successful college football powerhouse of the past five years.
This is the fifth straight playoff. It could prove to the be fifth consecutive trip to the finals. It's simply incredible.
And yet there's a disconnect. A failure to respect -- real, imagined, or both -- that understandably sticks in the craw of Tiger backers. It reminds them of where they were and how some have not realized where they are now. It gives Swinney the fuel to motivate his team. It serves a purpose-- even if it's annoying.
Clemson has little to prove but will do it anyway, this one last time, in the hopes things are different moving forward.